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Monroe County Insane Asylum (1857-1891)


By 1826 the population of Monroe County was large enough for the number of poor and indigent to become a concern to County government. To manage this problem, the County established the Alms House in 1826. Under direction of the Superintendent of the Poor, the Alms House provided shelter for county residents who were destitute and unable to care for themselves. In 1857 a new wing was added to the Alms House for the care of the mentally ill. This addition was called the Monroe County Insane Asylum. By 1862 the number of patients admitted to the Asylum necessitated the erection of a separate building. Until July 1891, the Monroe County Insane Asylum operated as a county-funded institution under the direct supervision of a physician-superintendant and the indirect supervision of the Superintendent of the Poor.

In 1890 the New York State Legislature passed a bill providing for the establishment of state-run psychiatric hospitals in various parts of the state. In those counties where asylums already existed, the State offered to buy them from the counties and operate them under State management. The County of Monroe took advantage of this option, and on July 1, 1891 the Monroe County Insane Asylum became the Rochester State Hospital.

The Records of the Monroe County Insane Asylum are not comprehensive. They include a single volume of Board of Trustees minutes (1889-1891), a fairly extensive collection of Medical Certificates of Lunacy, full admission & discharge records between 1857 and 1891, and clinical records for the years 1885-1891. The Records of the Monroe County Insane Asylum were acquired with those of the Rochester State Hospital in 1977. They were reprocessed in the autumn of 2009. This collection comprises nine ledgers and seven document boxes occupying nine linear feet.

Medical Certificates of Lunacy

Medical Certificates of Lunacy were generally required for the commitment of patients to insane asylums in New York State during much of the the 19th century. The certificates of lunacy in this collection pertain to patients committed to the Monroe County Insane Asylum. The bulk of these certificates date from the 1870s and 1880s, though a few date from the mid-1860s. Although an extensive collection, there is not a certificate for every patient admitted to the County or State asylums during this period.

The certificates were originally pasted to sheets of paper that were filed alphabetically by patient name in a two-ring leather binder. Due to deterioration of the original binders, the records have been removed, placed in folders, and boxed. The alphabetical arrangement of the certificates has been retained.

  • Box 1: Patients AD-CH
  • Box 2: Patients CH-FR
  • Box 2A: FO-JAR
  • Box 3: Patients JO-Mc
  • Box 4: Patients Mc-SI
  • Box 5: Patients ST-WI
  • Box 6: WA-Z

Admission and Discharge Records

The ledgers labelled County Book A and County Book B list patients admitted to and discharged from the Monroe County Insane Asylum from its establishment in 1857 through June 1891, when operation of the asylum was taken over by the State of New York. The data in the ledgers are arranged chronologically by year of admission, but not always in order of month or day. The ledgers provide the patient’s name, age, place of birth, latest place of residence, and date of death or discharge. Index Book 1 and 2 provide an alphabetical index to the names listed in the admission and discharge ledgers. Among the records of the Rochester State Hospital is a Patient Records Index listing patients admitted to the Monroe County Insane Asylum or to the Rochester State Hospital between 1857 and 1897.

  • County Book A: October 1, 1857-October 1, 1880
  • County Book B: October 1, 1880-October 1, 1891
  • Index Book 1: October 1, 1857-November 14, 1889
  • Index Book 2: January 1, 1887-June 26, 1891

Personal Medical Histories

According to a typewritten label attached to the front pastedown of the Unnumbered Volume, this book of patient case histories “contains notes on patients in the Monroe County Insane Asylum in July 1885 and notes continue for about a year thereafter. Names are not in alphabetical or chronological order.” The patient information provided is very brief, though some entries were updated several times during the period this ledger was maintained.

The numbered volumes that provide “personal medical histories” for patients from October 1886 until the last patient was admitted in June 1891 have a more structured format and more extensive entries than the Unnumbered Volume. Volumes 1 and 2 provide the patient’s name, dates of admission & discharge (or death), the number of admissions, the name of the physician(s) who signed the certificate of lunacy, the patient’s place of birth, marital status, a brief diagnosis, and multiple dated entries by the attending physician that describe the patient’s condition.

  • Unnumbered Volume: 1885-1886
  • Volume 1: October 1, 1886-May 14, 1889
  • Volume 2: May 17, 1889-June 26, 1891

General Summary of Day Reports

Daily Reports, October 1, 1889-October 1, 1891

Each page of this ledger is a printed form for recording on a daily basis the number of patients in each ward, the number of patients sick in bed, taking medicine, soiling beds or clothing, refusing food, requiring restraint, etc. The daily reports also record the number of patients employed on the farm, on the grounds, in the laundry, kitchen, dining rooms, etc. The daily reports extend beyond the transfer of the County asylum to the State (July 1, 1891) by several months.

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees Minutes, October 1, 1889-June 2, 1891

This folio ledger contains handwritten minutes of meetings of the Board of Trustees of the Monroe County Insane Asylum. Board meetings were normally scheduled monthly, but sometimes occurred biweekly. The final Board meeting was held on June 2, 1891, a month before operation of the asylum was transferred to the State of New York.

Inspection Log

Inspection Log, August 12, 1890-March 12, 1892

This log records the inspection of patient wards, shops & workrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, the boiler room, etc. Each report is signed by the inspecting physician or matron. The final third of the log was compiled after the county asylum was transferred to the State of New York on July 1, 1891.